Kilo Two Bravo | Paul Katis | UK, Jordan | 2014 | 108 minutes
In a true story of the war in Afghanistan, Jake Smith finds a director worth watching and a film that renders the horrors of war with terrifying efficacy.
A British soldier in Afghanistan receives a birthday card from his aunt with 10 quid inside, which is useless to him in the field (he says it with more vulgar flare). Two others play chess using water bottles as the pieces. A painted sign outside the base camp reads “Leave All Morale Here.” The first fifteen minutes of Kilo Two Bravo are peppered with these little human moments that distinguish a somewhat routine scene-setting. They are moments of calm before a bloody storm.
Kilo Two Bravo is based on the true story of a detachment of the British Army in Kajaki Dam in 2006. (The film is also known as Kajaki.) While on a patrol, a squad of soldiers walk into a wadi (valley) that is littered with mines, likely left over from the Soviet occupation. What follows is an exceptionally tense depiction of the soldiers figuring their way out of the wadi and waiting for rescue. I was reminded of The Hurt Locker, specifically its sniper duel, which I find wrought with wonderfully raw tension. To those of you who remember and enjoy this scene, imagine that same raw tension, stretched to an hour and a half.
Kilo Two Bravo is a war movie as it should be told: as a horror film. No zombies, no werewolves, not even an enemy soldier in the shadows. It’s as simple a terror as proximity to the slightest shift of a pebble that could spell dismemberment and death. People who know me would tell you that films don’t scare me easily. I am not one who is prone to jumping from my seat when the screen attempts to startle me. So, believe me when I tell you that this film is an intense experience. (More specifically, it caused me to leap from my couch more than once, the echoes of my frightened cursing throughout my home.) And like many horror films, it is replete with gore.
With his debut feature, Paul Katis proves himself a director worthy of our future attention. In addition to the way he renders those little moments I mentioned earlier, he also shows remarkable command in his compositions. He finds so many different striking ways to shoot an exceptionally limited space, bringing a gritty magnificence both the men and the terrifying desert that captures them. Keen attention is also paid to the sound design, from the gentle clacking of rocks in the valley to the roar of helicopter engines. Listen also as the flies begin to circle the men; the film very subtly increases the volume on their portentous buzzing. Katis is receiving much deserved accolades for this film, and I’m looking forward to seeing what’s next from him.
If I have a complaint with Kilo Two Bravo at all, it’s that we don’t get to know the characters well enough in the first 15 minutes of the film before the crisis begins. But, of course, that’s part of the point—the film wants us to get to know them during the crisis, so naturally it keeps us at a little bit of a remove early on.
I suppose my other complaint is that I am writing this review for our Missed Madison Festival. Aside from its stunning cinematography—which really could use a big screen—it’s a shame that this film won’t play in theaters locally for a couple of reasons. First, as other Missed Madison reviews have mentioned, the market should have more room for international films. Second, it’s just plain refreshing to see a genre film on which the fate of the genre itself doesn’t rest.
With a war film in particular, it’s also refreshing that the politics of the war don’t rest on the film’s shoulders. “Ten million mines; god knows what we’re gonna leave behind.” That is arguably as political as the film gets, and that line is a particularly powerful one. Don’t get me wrong; I’m not arguing for apolitical movies. What I am arguing for is space for the smaller stories that may get obscured by the shadow of larger ones. Kilo Two Bravo is such a small story of men of remarkable grit and courage, and it deserves a larger audience.